By Gemma Cruz Araneta
THOSE who are loath to reading and writing often say that a picture is worth a thousand words, which most of us believe is an old English saying, but it is not that old, nor did it originate in the United Kingdom. It might even be Chinese, for all we know. Apparently, the first time it saw print was in the 1920’s thereabouts, in a trade catalogue called “Printers Ink.” Since then, there have been various versions like “One look is worth a thousand words” and “One picture is worth a thousand words” or “A picture is worth ten thousand words.” The last is attributed to a certain Fred R. Barnard of the abovementioned catalogue.
As a writer, I am wary of any statement, adage, and idiom that obviates my profession specially during these perilous times when because of amazing advances in technology, homo sapiens have abandoned skills that took centuries of evolution to learn. However, I am resigned to the collective fate of us writers and bookworms– a picture is indeed worth ten thousand (if not more) words.
As a supreme act of resignation, I agreed to curate a painting exhibition at Gallery XXI of the National Gallery of Fine Arts of the National Museum from 18 April to 29 October 2017. Six long months! Perhaps I was attracted by the enigmatic title — HOCUS — and the unique amalgamation of its authorship. Each painting has two authors, Atty. Saul HOfileña and Mr. Guy CUStodio. Aside from being an eminent barrister, Atty. Hofileña has written books on the tobacco industry (Vestments of the Golden Leaf) and Philippine history (Under the Stacks). Mr. Custodio is just as eminent but in the world of art especially in restoration and conservation. He spent 20 years in Salamanca and Barcelona studying restoration mainly of religious art after which he was commissioned to restore the 18thcentury churches in Bohol, notably Baclayon and Alburquerque.
In effect, even if a picture or a painting is worth ten thousand words, the HOCUS paintings are unique because, it can be argued, they contain both word and image. Atty. HOfileña is a historian who writes but cannot paint while Mr. CUStodio is a painter who is wary of history. Hofileña conjures images and visions derived from intense research work among primary historical sources; he explains these to the painter who in turn captures them on canvas or old wood. That is why each painting is like a chapter of a Philippine history book. Yes, there is a HOCUS book, a combination of images and written word.
This year, Mr. Daniel S. Hofileña donated six paintings from the HOCUS collection to the National Gallery of Fine Arts of the National Museum. They are as follows: “Marcha del Patronato Real”(March of the Patronato Real, the religious and legal basis of the conquest); “La Brisa de los Fuertes” (Breeze of the Forts, shows the unity of religious orders and the state); “How We Lost Our Names” (Decree of Clavería which all but deleted native genealogies); “El Capitan China” (The Chinese Captain, role of the Chinese); “The Lost Island of San Juan” (how a foreigner viewed us); “La Pesadilla” (The Nightmare, a menacing allegory of our God-less days). It is evident that these 6 paintings, now permanently housed on the 4th floor, were not random choices; they were selected for donation with context in mind. The purpose of the original HOCUS exhibition which was to depict Philippine history in ten thousand words enveloped in pictures or paintings is not lost.
There will be no HOCUS II, but because there is so much more to learn,and by popular demand, the next exhibition will be called “Quadrícula,” spelled the Portuguese way, with everything that implies. I shall not preempt HOfileña and CUStodio by saying more.
Thank you Director Jeremy Barns and Assistant Director Ana Labrador for transforming the National Museum into an outstanding, world-class center for learning about Philippine art, history, culture, natural history, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology. The galleries are visitor friendly, air-conditioned, squeaky clean; the museum staff is well informed; the guards are polite and helpful. You may be pleased to know that this temple of learning is teaming with young people curious about the roots of their identity, with family groups eager to bond through learning and seniors like me who believe it is never too late to read or behold those ten thousand words.
By Gemma Cruz Araneta